With the new season about to get under way, we want to take you back to 2021 to look at the players who excelled. Writers and podcasters from across the British and Irish NFL scene voted on the best players of last season. There are some familiar names and some players who have burst on to the NFL scene. Now it is time to see if they can back up their All-Pro honours, starting this week.
QB – Aaron Rodgers (22 votes)
Our All-Pro QB Rodgers was the cream of the crop last year with 4115 yards, 37 TDs and only 4 INTs (in 16 games), leading the Packers to the number one seed. He took 22 of the 41 votes, with only Brady threatening to dethrone him in what appeared to be his swansong. But he’ll be back for one more year, we think…
RB – Jonathan Taylor (37 votes)
The Colts rusher had a stunning sophomore season, rushing for 1811 yards and 18 TDs on a Colts team that blew their chance of the playoffs late on the season. Taylor’s 1811 yards were 552 yards more than anyone else as he demonstrated himself as the league’s best bell cow. Not even Derrick Henry could take the title from Taylor.
Wide Receivers – Cooper Kupp (38), Davante Adams (29) & JaMarr Chase (18)
Three WRs stood above the rest last season. Our All-Pro group is Cooper Kupp very nearly broke the receiver yardage record, and 2000 yards, albeit in 17 games. His 1947 yards (114.5 yards/game) and 16 TDs were instrumental to the Rams Super Bowl win on home turf.
Devante Adams has gone out on his own, away from Aaron Rodgers, despite 1553 yards and 11 TDs on a team that was primed to fight for honours in the NFC for the foreseeable future. Now he enters a dog fight in the AFC West.
One of only two rookies on offence is a Bengal. Chase was fourth highest on the list for yards with a higher average reception than Kupp, Adams or Justin Jefferson. After fears of drops and differences between a college and NFL ball in preseason, Chase stormed the league and became an AFC champion, with 1455 yards and 13 TDs.
Two honourable mentions at the position go to Jefferson (12 votes) and Deebo Samuel (11), who arguably didn’t get enough credit for his work as a runner as well as a receiver, with 1770 all-purpose yards.
Tight End – Mark Andrews (27)
There isn’t a debate who the best Tight End in the league is any more. The Ravens fell away dramatically due to injury after a great start, but Andrews led the league for receivers with 1361 yards (6th overall), as one of the few Ravens to stay healthy all year. The next highest was Travis Kelce (11 votes) with 1125 yards. Andrews added nine TDs, including two octopuses in the comeback win vs the Colts. Now in an even more Tight End heavy offence, expect the Ohio State alum and our All-Pro tight end to seem more than the 153 targets from last year.
Offensive Line – Trent Williams (30), Quenton Nelson (17), Creed Humphrey, (19), Zach Martin (25) & Tristan Wirfs (29)
Veteran Trent Williams headlines the offensive line, on a team that allowed 33 sacks on the way to the NFC Championship Game. Williams was the most popular all-pro lineman, ahead of rookie Rashawn Slater.
The Colts did allow 32 sacks, but Carson Wentz has to take some responsibility for those. Meanwhile, Quenton Nelson helped Jonathan Taylor get to the second level more often than not. Supporting Taylor meant Nelson edged out Bitonio with 12 votes.
The Chiefs allowed just 28 sacks a year ago as Creed Humphrey created instant chemistry with Patrick Mahomes. Humphrey starred with nearly twice as many votes as runner up Jason Kelce.
Zack Martin continued his exemplary career despite protecting several QBs last season. The Cowboys allowed 33 sacks, but Martin beat Wyatt Teller by 18 votes.
Wirfs was critical to the Bucs league-best line, who allowed only 23 sacks, keeping Tom Brady clean. Wirfs was only bested by Trent Williams but dominated the field at Right Tackle. What can the Tackle, who is already a Super Bowl champion, achieve in his third year in the league.?
Interior Linemen – Aaron Donald (39) & Cameron Heyward (15)
How can you ignore a true all-pro like Aaron Donald? He now has the ring his career deserves and picked up 12.5 sacks and 84 tackles along the way. He even had 4 forced fumbles, as well as the play to seal the Super Bowl. It’s clear that retirement is at least entering his mind so we need to make the most of Donald while we still can.
Cam Heyward was a distant second choice but put together a stellar year on a Steelers’ defence that dragged them to the playoffs. Heyward picked up 89 tackles, 10 sacks and an interception.
In contention was Chris Jones (11 votes) and Jeffrey Simmons (7).
EDGE – TJ Watt (32) & Myles Garrett (23)
TJ Watt equalled the season sack record and arguably should have broken the record against the Ravens on the final day. Watt’s 22.5 sacks, 64 tackles, 5 forced fumbles and 3 recoveries were key to the Steelers’ vaunted defence.
Garrett wasn’t far behind with 16 sacks and 51 tackles, but the Browns’ unit was simply no match for the Steelers and blew a great chance of postseason. Maxx Crosby put up a strong showing with 14 votes but came up just short, despite single-handedly knocking the Chargers out of the playoffs on the final day.
Linebackers – Micah Parsons (35) & Darius (Shaquille) Leonard (20)
Parsons was an absolute star as a rookie, the lynchpin of a so-so Cowboys defence. The only problem is Dallas can’t work out where to play him. The phenom took 13 sacks and 3 forced fumbles alongside 84 tackles in a performance that will whet Cowboy appetites this season.
Shaq Leonard was a tackle monster last year with 122 tackles – 75 solo. He also had four INTs, 8 forced fumbles and 3 recoveries in a superstar season that should have returned playoff football to Indy. The artist formerly known as Darius will be key to whether Matt Ryan can guide the Colts to the playoffs in a crowded AFC.
Bobby Wagner (9) and Devondre Campbell (9) were also in consideration for the award.
Cornerbacks – Jalen Ramsey (28), JC Jackson (25) & AJ Terrell (20)
Ramsey finally delivered the form he promised when he got to LA, a key part of a star-studded Rams team. The corner had 4 interceptions and 77 tackles, shutting down one side of the field for opponents.
One bright spark of a tough year in New England was Jackson who replaced Stephon Gilmore with aplomb. He had 8 (eight) interceptions and defended 23 passes. With the loss of Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, Terrell is by far the best player on a weak Falcons roster. Terrell had 3 interceptions and 81 tackles as he announced himself on the NFL stage.
Despite 11 INTs, Trevon Diggs gambling on coverage meant he just missed out on All Pro honours with 17 votes.
Safety – Kevin Byard (30) & Justin Simmons (10)
Byard was an underrated but critical part of the Titans run to the number one seed. He took five interceptions and forced two fumbles, as well as deflecting 13 passes, recovering a fumble and making 88 tackles. Not bad for a safety as the last line of defence. With the Titans under the radar this year, will Byard be the one to make a splash again.
His partner was the most hotly contested place on this team. Jordan Poyer, Derwin James, Budda Baker and Micah Hyde were all in consideration. In the end, Justin Simmons scraped past Hyde on a tiebreaker. Simmons had five interceptions and 80 tackles, as well as 1.5 sacks as the Broncos started building towards a challenge in a brutal AFC West.
Specialists – Justin Tucker (28) & AJ Cole (18)
Tucker deserved this award after week 3, kicking a 66-yard winner as time expired in Detroit. Aside from that, Tucker made 35 of 37 kicks (94.6%), including six for six over 50 yards. He was also flawless with extra points, kicking all 32 and had 47 touchbacks.
For what it’s worth, Daniel Carlson (8 votes) was the only man to get more than a vote.
At Punter, AJ Cole fought off Michael Dickson (10 votes) and Bryan Anger (9 votes) to the All-Pro crown, punting for 3202 yards with an average of 50 yards.
My thanks to the British NFL community for coming together and supporting with the voting for this piece. Now all that remains to do is see who can back it up in 2022.
Find more articles from Adam Barton here.
Image: AP Photo / Darron Cummings